In almost all aspects, California law is friendlier to employees than Federal law. This is especially true when it comes to disability discrimination.
Definitions of Disability
California’s Fair Employment Housing Act (FEHA) prevents discrimination against any employee with a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities. It also protects employees with a history of having an impairment or who are regarded as disabled. The Americas with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides similar protection, but it adds the extra hurdle of requiring that the impairment substantially limit a major life activity.
Courts Strictly Uphold ADA Disability Requirements
It is much more difficult to prove that an employee has a disability under ADA than under FEHA. A recent case from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals demonstrates this. In Neely v. PSEG Tex., LP () an employee with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder sued his employer for disability discrimination after he was disciplined and terminated for several disagreements with his supervisors.
At trial the jury decided that the employee could not prove that he was disabled, even though he had been diagnosed with the above disorders. The employee appealed the decision, arguing that whether he had a disability did not need to be proven. The 5th Circuit strongly disagreed. Although in 1991 ADA was amended to make it much easier to prove a disability, the court held that disability still must be proven in order to win a disability discrimination lawsuit.
FEHA Disability Definition is Much More Relaxed
FEHA’s focuses more on whether the employer discriminated against the employee, rather than whether the employee was actually disabled. FEHA broadly construes the definition of disability and does not take into account whether medication or an assistive device can resolve the limitations imposed by the medical or psychological condition. That means that even if a hearing impaired employee can have normal hearing with the use of a device, they will still qualify as being disabled under FEHA.
Usually, having a diagnosed medical condition other than sexual behavior disorders, compulsive stealing, pyromania, and illegal substance addictions will entitle an employee to FEHA protection. If the Neely case had been brought under California law, the employee would have likely met the definition of disabled.
Stand up to Disability Discrimination
If you have been discriminated against contact the Law Offices of Michael S. Cunningham for a free case evaluation. Call (858) 376-7390 today.